during her bombshell period, Virginia Madsen is perfectly cast as an elusive
femme fatale in Gotham (1988), a
made-for-television movie for the Showtime Channel and that was part of a run
of sexy roles in the late 1980s that also included Slam Dance (1987), and into 1990s with The Hot Spot (1990) and forgettable erotic thrillers such as Caroline at Midnight (1994) and Blue Tiger (1994). Fortunately, this one
stars Tommy Lee Jones and whose angle is a neo-noir fused with a ghost story.
“You ever find yourself walking down a dark street, you think you hear
footsteps coming up slowly, somebody just out of sight?” This question
kickstarts the story as Charles Rand (Colin Bruce) asks down-on-his-luck
private investigator Eddie Mallard (Jones) to find his wife Rachel (Madsen) and
tell her to leave him alone. The only problem: she’s been dead for over ten
years. Rand offers Mallard a lot of money to take the case, which he accepts
even though, as he confesses to his friend Tim (Kevin Jarre) later on, he fears
that he’s feeding into this man’s delusions.
Eddie humors his client and his odd ramblings about his wife (“She lusts for
daylight. She wants power in the daylight.”). The man is truly haunted by her
death and apparent resurrection and this intrigues Eddie – that and the hefty
paycheck. One day, Charles spots Rachel across the street and asks Eddie to go
over and talk to her. With her long white gloves, vintage hat tilted at just
the right angle and retro black dress, Rachel looks like she stepped right out
of a 1940s film noir. Of course, she denies knowing Charles and humors Eddie by
going out for a drink with him where she explains that she is a woman of
shows up at Eddie’s office and apologizes for coming on so strong the other day
and takes him out for a bite to eat as a way of apologizing. She comes across
as a slightly sad, lonely wealthy lady. He’s intrigued by her stunning looks
and enigmatic past. Their paths cross again as she wanders out of the smoke on
a deserted city street one night. The deeper he goes into the case the more he
realizes it’s not as simple as it seems and like most noirs he finds himself
drawn into an increasingly complex web with Rachel at its center. Is she really
the deceased wife or is this merely the delusions of a crazy man?
has odd beats that occasionally disrupt its traditional narrative, such as a
scene where Eddie and Rachel are serenaded in an alleyway by a dirty bum with
an immaculate acoustic guitar and a beautiful voice. It’s a poignant moment as
the camera stays on Madsen’s face as Rachel reacts to “Danny Boy,” her eyes
gradually welling up and a tear runs down her face. With the help of his very
talented crew that includes the likes of David Cronenberg’s longtime production
designer Carol Spier, legendary cinematographer Michael Chapman (Raging Bull) and composer George S.
Clinton (Austin Powers), writer/director
Lloyd Fonvielle creates a suitable neo-noir mood and atmosphere with a touch of
the supernatural, such as a spooky shot of Rachel submerged in murky water, a
gloved hand reaching out to Eddie.
old school looks, Virginia Madsen could have been a Classic Hollywood movie
star and is perfectly cast as an elusive femme fatale cum woman out of time.
She does an excellent job of coming across as this sweet, alluring presence and
then transforms into a vulgar, vengeful creature. The actor is more than
believable as a woman that could seduce men into doing her bidding and
destroying their lives in the process.
Jones is well cast as a world-weary gumshoe who thinks he knows all the angles
until he takes on this case and becomes entangled in Rachel’s web. Like Rachel,
Eddie undergoes his own transformation and Jones does an excellent job of
conveying a man who has seen it all to one obsessed with a woman that tears his
critics of the time weren’t too kind to Gotham.
The Washington Post's Tom Shales
wrote, "Madsen is a sensuously spooky Rachel. She is also quite naked in
two or three scenes, popping up, literally, in the bathtub, and falling out of
a refrigerator. Madsen holds Jones and the camera captive. Maybe it doesn't
matter that the whole thing is senseless." In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Lynne Heffley wrote,
"What viewers fall victim to is a flawed vision. Suspense fizzles into
steamy homage to Madsen’s beauty, clad and unclad; New York City locales are
unbelievably underpopulated; a street bum sings “Danny Boy"-all of it-and
Madsen’s exquisite lips are either framing romance novel banalities or a
favorite obscenity." The New York
Times’ Walter Goodman described it as “a lugubrious telling of a story that
at its best is incomprehensible.”
be a dream but it’s one of those dreams you can’t wake up from,” Eddie says at
one point and it is the narrow line Gotham
treads between what is real and what we perceive as real. And isn’t that all
down to perception anyway? One person’s reality could be another’s dream. Since
this movie is a neo-noir typically things don’t go well for the protagonist but
Fonvielle twists this convention so that his main character is spared while
another character is doomed. He does an excellent job of grounding the movie in
its own reality so we’re never sure what is real and what is a dream except for
little details that he uses as signposts along the way. It’s a tricky balancing
acting between the ridiculous and the sublime but then again, isn’t all a
matter of perception?